A Room Full of Solutions to Empty Bellies

By Jimmy O’Connor | Posted on May 21, 2012

On Tuesday May 15, NRPA assembled a group of 28 park and recreation agencies from around the nation – grantees of its 2012 Serving Communities program – to address children’s hunger and obesity, and how they are combating both through summer meal programs.  The NRPA Serving Communities program, now in its third year and with support from the Walmart Foundation and Kansas Health Foundation, provides grants to park and recreation agencies to expand summer and afterschool feeding programs.   

Summer Feeding Seminar

Serving 560 million meals to children each year, parks and recreation is the largest public provider of healthy meals to children during out-of-school times.  However, when looking at summer alone, only 20 percent of eligible children are participating in meal programs.

Kids Eating Boxed Lunches

The question of the day; How to reach the 15 million low-income children who could, and perhaps should, be benefiting from healthy meals during summer – but aren’t?

The day-long peer exchange included representatives from USDA Food and Nutrition Services, the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), and OrganWise Guys Inc. 

Through break-out groups and roundtable discussions, participants focused on four key areas:

• Increasing the number of children participating in summer feeding programs
• Resolving meal-specific challenges
• Expanding the number of feeding sites
• Incorporating additional enrichment into feeding programs such as nutritional education

Summer Feeding Seminar 2

At the end of the day emerged a number of key practices that collectively address the most significant barriers to reaching more children with healthy meals each summer.  These key practices will be combined with those resulting from a similar gathering in Kansas to help guide the efforts of the 2012 Serving Communities grantees. 

Stay tuned for future posts highlighting how the 2012 Serving Communities grantees are making a real difference in reducing children’s hunger and obesity in their communities.

By the way…did you know some agencies serve chocolate milk because kids will drink it at warmer temperatures (still within health regulations) than plain milk?  This sure beats throwing milk away.  Does your agency take any creative approaches to feeding hungry kids?

Jimmy O’Connor is NRPA’s Senior Manager of Grants.